The title of this book is in no way misleading. It is, in fact, a very short introduction to the history of fashion. Arnold takes the reader on a helicopter ride through fashion’s past, present, and future, hovering far above specific instances to locate very broad patterns. Some of these include the rise of the designer, the intersections between art and fashion, the development of the fashion industry, the impact of globalization, etc.
For the most part, this book did exactly what it was designed to do. It painted the history of fashion in very broad strokes so that we were able to identify areas in which we would like to dig deeper. For each chapter, Arnold lists possible sources for further reading. Some that seem particularly interesting to our project are:
- The journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture.
- Paul Jobling, Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980
- Annie Phizacklea, Unpacking the Fashion Industry: Gender, Racism, and Class in Production.
- Rebecca Arnold, Fashion, Desire, and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the Twentieth Century.
- Hazel Clark and Eugenia Paulicelli, eds. The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity, and Globalization.
Though the book could only ever deal with any issue on a superficial level, I was able to tease out a few items of interest to the intersection of fashion and emerging media.
On a theoretical level, Arnold’s identification of fashion as cyclical, value-added, performative, and potentially homogenizing (3) has clear parallels with the cycles and anxieties around social media. Similarly, the design of the department store and shopping mall as social spaces makes explicit the social history of fashion. This allows us to draw even stronger connections between fashion and social media such as blogs, twitter accounts, etc. Further, the history of influence and copying (14) aligns with current issues concerning legislation that restricts forms of appropriation. And finally, the role of the designer, which has a dictatorial tendency, brings to mind the way that software and app designers constrict potential operations (12). In neither case is this an explicit plot for dominance, but we must be aware of restriction on, as well as the enabling of, interactions.
Another area of crossover is in terms of technological developments. Hardware developments such as the 1851 invention of the sewing machine have an obvious impact on the production of garments (53). Equally important are technologies of textile production, including chemicals and processes for dying (55). In addition, Arnold’s book makes explicit multiple influences that I had not considered. For example, the need to outfit large military forces in standardized uniforms influenced the production of ready-to-wear garments (52). Another interesting example is that of the development of the plate glass window. The increasing ubiquity of large, clear glass windows facilitated the development of the window display, an art form in and of itself.
I just came across this video by UT Dallas student Djakhangir Zakhidov. His company, STEM Productions, filmed time lapse of a collision between Dallas Art Fair and the Neiman Marcus window display. This project makes literal the window display as art form. Read about the installations and watch his video here. You can follow him on Twitter.
The book also contained a fair amount of relevant information about the history of fashion media. I was surprised to learn that fashion magazines date back to the 1600s (6). Also of interest are the evolving genres of fashion plates and fashion photography (63-66). And finally, the 18th century use of the “grande Pandora” doll to circulate the latest fashions (13) is reminiscent of both fashion media and the use of avatars in digital culture. Overall the book laid some groundwork for many possible topics for us to include here at Fashioning Circuits.
The Grande Pandora
- Laura Martinez. “A 16th Century Inspired Fashion Doll.” Une Robe Magnifique.
- Ann Mauger Colbert, Katherine M. Rassuli, and Laura Farlow Dix. “Marketers, Dolls, and the Democratization of Fashion.”
- Lydia Marie Taylor. “Pandora in the Box: Traveling Around the World in the Name of Fashion.”
Early Fashion Magazines
- The English Press: Then and Now. “The Lady’s Magazine (1770 – 1800).”
- http://www.aboutenglish.it/englishpress/ladysmaga.htm (this site was recently reported as having been hacked, proceed with caution)
- UC Riverside. Full Text issues of The Lady’s Magazine.
- Myra’s Journal of Dress and Fashion at the Johns Hopkins University library.